Future military tech: self-healing planes, lasers and robot dogs

15 Jul 2014

LS3 prototype from 2012 via Wikimedia Commons

So far this month, some of the world’s largest military contractors have been showcasing their future tech both for the near and far future, including a plane that splits into three, a self-healing plane, and Boston Dynamic’s robot dog.

BAE Systems, one of the world’s largest aerospace companies, recently showcased some of its concept designs that it claims could be in military and civil aviation use by 2040 but look like something science fiction enthusiasts would be more familiar with.

The Britain-based company showcased the concept designs their scientists imagined more so as a PR exercise but they are still exciting to those interested in the future of aircraft design and if they are willing to overlook the obvious spin placed on these military aircraft being used solely for rescue missions and defensive operations.

The Survivor

This first concept is something that was first seen in Terminator 2 when the T-1000 was shown to have the ability to self-heal and form different shapes with his mercury-like metal construction.

Now it appears scientists are looking at bringing the same concept to the air.

Designated The Survivor, the aircraft would be able to literally heal itself mid-flight if it has sustained damage to its structure by releasing a lightweight adhesive fluid that that will be able to form a pattern of carbon nanotubes that will only take a short amount of time to solidify.

Of course, it’s highly unlikely it would be able to repair, say, an entire wing blown off, but with basic anti-aircraft fire consisting of high-explosive shells that can just punch holes in aircraft, this would allow it to sustain small amounts of damage that would have otherwise forced the pilot to bail.


The Transformer

Frankly, this concept sounds far too good to be true and perhaps there are some aeronautical engineers who might have some questions about its feasibility but BAE showcased The Transformer, which could turn a large V-wing aircraft into three smaller ones simply by detaching themselves from the one aircraft.

The idea is they will be able to perform different tasks at the same time while also being able to conserve fuel instead of sending three individual aircraft.

The planes will somehow also be able to join back together mid-flight and return to base.


On-board 3D printing plane

While killer drones circle the skies of the Middle East, raining destruction from above, BAE envisions a future by 2040 in which a flying 3D printer roams the skies printing out different drones to suit the needs of a given situation.

Remotely-controlled from the ground by a human operator, the plane will be capable of printing different drones, from wide-winged surveillance and attack aircraft to smaller quadrocopter drones, that could be used for rescuing individuals from incidents. Then after use, the drones could dissolve their own circuit boards to render themselves useless.

None of the plane’s military capabilities are showcased, but its ability to change a battlefield is rather apparent.


Directed energy systems

The concept of lasers being used for the destruction of incoming missiles is by no means a new concept, as former US president Ronald Reagan toyed with the idea during the 1980s with the Star Wars satellite programme. The technology has since progressed to the point where many modern battleships are equipping themselves with their own high-tech laser shields.

BAE, however, sees the same technology also being used as an attachment to aircraft to shoot down incoming missiles as it roams the skies.


Boston Dynamics’ LS3 Robot

Boston Dynamics has certainly made a name for itself in recent years for its, quite frankly, creepy range of robots that are attempting to make the most life-like movements as possible. In particular, its LS3 robot, developed with the US military’s research wing, DARPA.

After being acquired by Google in 2013 (to much consternation from those online) the company has continued to ramp up the cow-like four-legged robot, which is hoped will act in almost exactly the same way that militaries of old would have used donkeys or horses to carry heavy loads over rough terrain.

This month, however, its latest round of testing saw it venture to the hilly and grassy lands of Hawaii but what’s noticeable is it could hardly be used for stealth missions as its generator emits about as much noise as a motorcycle engine.


Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic